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Free VPN vs. paid VPN — which is right for you?

While it might be tempting to get a free VPN and avoid paying for a subscription, this could put your security and privacy at risk. Is using a free VPN ever a good idea — or is a paid VPN always better? Let’s dive into the free VPN vs. paid VPN debate.

Karolis Bareckas

Karolis Bareckas

Free VPN vs. paid VPN — which is right for you?

What is a free VPN?

A free VPN service does not charge a monthly or yearly subscription fee, making it free for anyone to use. But if the service is free, how do these VPN companies survive, let alone make money?

A VPN service relies on a vast network of thousands of servers that have to be continually maintained. Operating this type of infrastructure requires hundreds or even thousands of employees and a significant amount of money.

how free VPNs monetize their apps

How do free VPNs make money?

Like any other company, VPN providers must make theirs profitable to continue operating. And, if the users aren’t paying for it, these providers have to make money in other ways. This is where problems begin.

Tracking and selling your browsing data

While you might think that nobody cares what you do online, your online data is a high commodity.

Advertisers buy user data from data brokerage companies to learn more about user shopping habits, tastes, and preferences — and make their campaigns more effective.

One of the main ways free VPNs make money is by selling your personal data to brokers. The information they sell might include what websites you visit, what you purchase, how long you stay online, and what kind of device you use.

Bombarding you with ads

Displaying ads is a popular strategy to monetize free services (including VPNs). The service provider gets its share whenever a user clicks on the ad. If a company has millions of users, this strategy can be enough to sustain a business.

However, being constantly bombarded with ads can be annoying and sometimes it’s not easy to close them. Worse still, some ads might be malicious and can infect your device with malware.

With NordVPN, you don’t have to worry about annoying ads as you use the app. Moreover, the Threat Protection feature blocks ads as you browse and blocks malware during download.

Pushing you to upgrade to a paid version

Some free VPNs offer users limited features and set restrictive data caps to pressure customers to upgrade to the paid service. Many apps use this strategy to attract paying customers, and free VPNs are no exception.

Since it’s recommended that you have a VPN enabled on your device at all times to stay secure, you might run out of “free” data in just a couple of days. So you either have to upgrade to a paid version or only use a VPN occasionally.

What are the drawbacks of a free VPN?

  • Poor security. A VPN is a tool meant to enhance your digital security, but a free VPN might do the opposite. Since free VPN providers don’t usually have decent server infrastructure, their security and the level of encryption might be weak. When you’re looking for a VPN, you need to choose the one with top-notch encryption; otherwise, you might fall prey to hackers.
  • Limited performance. A free VPN will never provide you with the latest cybersecurity features in the way that a paid VPN would. Your connection speed will be slow, making streaming and playing online unreliable. It’s like driving a 20-year-old car with a CD player, manual windows, and a ridiculous gas emission — there must be a better way.
  • Lack of privacy. A VPN hides your IP address, so nobody can see your location and link your internet activities with your identity. However, since free VPNs sell your data to third parties, you can say goodbye to your privacy.

Why are paid VPNs better than free alternatives?

Paid VPN providers make money by charging users for a VPN subscription. They invest that money in their infrastructure, introduce new features, and work to provide the best possible user experience.

Long-term users are the basis for their business model, so taking care of their user base is essential for maintaining a good reputation.

While free VPN alternatives can be tempting, they just can't match the security, speed, and ease of use of paid VPNs.

The only strength of a free VPN is that it’s free. People typically don’t expect high-end service when they get something without paying. But if you pay for a subscription, you can expect better speeds, extensive and advanced features, solid encryption, and 24/7 support.

You have no room for failure when you run a paid VPN because they’re obliged to deliver what they’ve promised. However, with free VPNs, it’s a whole different story.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN

What are the benefits of a paid VPN?

A paid VPN service comes with several important security and privacy benefits. We’ve listed the most important ones below.

An extensive server network

NordVPN operates more than 5,500 servers in 59 countries, guaranteeing the best speed wherever you are. It also offers several servers for different purposes:

  • Obfuscated servers — to access information in countries with severe internet restrictions.
  • Onion Over VPN — for extra security when accessing .onion websites.
  • Double VPN — redirects your traffic through two servers instead of one for extra security.
  • Dedicated IP — exclusive servers for users who purchased dedicated IPs.
  • P2P servers — for smooth and secure file sharing.

Strong privacy

Unlike some free VPNs, NordVPN doesn't log your online activity. It doesn’t sell your browsing data to third parties or collect it for other purposes.

And if you’ve ever wondered whether you can leave your VPN on all the time, the answer is always “yes” when using a premium service. NordVPN doesn’t limit how much data you can use through your VPN — it recommends leaving it on to shield your privacy wherever you go.

Top-notch encryption

Without strong encryption, third parties can access your internet traffic, monitor your activity, and steal your sensitive information. Turning on your VPN is extremely important if you often connect to public Wi-Fi because hackers often target unsecured networks.

NordVPN uses AES 256-bit encryption, which scrambles your data and turns it into gibberish while in transit, so nobody can spy on it.

Additional features

  • A VPN Kill Switch feature makes sure your data is never exposed.
  • DNS and IP leak protection prevents your IP and DNS from becoming exposed.
  • NordVPN's Meshnet lets you form private encrypted connections with devices from anywhere in the world.
  • NordVPN’s Dark Web Monitor will notify you if someone leaks your credentials to the dark web.
  • Threat Protection blocks third-party trackers and malicious ads, prevents you from accessing malware-ridden websites, and scans files for malware as you download them.
  • NordVPN’s private DNS function shields your DNS requests from third parties, so no one can spy on you or secretly redirect you to a malicious site.

Access to services

Countries like China, Iran, and Russia block social media platforms, Western news outlets, and web pages and apps. Free VPNs won’t always let you bypass heavy restrictions and might not offer the privacy you need.

On the other hand, premium VPNs continue working to overcome these restrictions and give you more internet freedom without compromising security.

With one NordVPN account, you can use a VPN on six different devices at the same time: smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more.

Free VPN vs. paid VPN: privacy and security

Free VPNPaid VPN
Many servers globallynoyes
Hidden IP addressyesyes
Stable and fast VPN connectionnoyes
Strong data encryptionyesyes
Unlimited bandwidthnoyes
Dedicated IP addressnoyes
Specialty serversnoyes
Multiple simultaneous connectionsnoyes
24/7 customer supportnoyes

Which VPN is right for you?

While a free VPN might sound appealing, using it risks your security and privacy. Unlike paid VPN services, free VPN companies have to generate income in other ways.

Some free VPNs might offer a limited version of free service, potentially compromising your security. In other cases, free VPNs may sell your data to make money.

When it comes to cybersecurity, you have to take all the necessary measures to protect yourself. Otherwise, it may cost you a lot more in the long run.

PRO TIP: Remember that paid VPNs charge money for a reason: they want to maintain their infrastructure and provide the best service. With a paid VPN, you can go online with peace of mind.

Is NordVPN free?

NordVPN isn’t free, but it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. You can also get a free 7-day NordVPN trial for Android on Google Play.

Alternatively, NordVPN offers several coupons and VPN deals, allowing you to buy the premium service at a discounted price.

NordVPN offers monthly, annual, and two-year subscription plans. It's worth noting that, if you see someone offering an entirely free NordVPN account online, it's probably a cracked VPN, meaning that the software is being sold illegally or may even be malicious.

A premium, authentic NordVPN account is always the best option. As the world’s leading VPN, it employs thousands of people to ensure it consistently delivers the highest standard of online privacy and security.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN


Karolis Bareckas
Karolis Bareckas Karolis Bareckas
Karolis is a tech geek who writes about cybersecurity, online privacy, and the latest gadgets. When not rattling his keyboard, he’s always eager to try a new burrito recipe or explore a new camping spot.